Sunday, December 24, 2006

אויף דער שטעג On The Way

Talmud Bavli « masekhet Berakhot « 29b-30a
And Ribbí Ya‘aqov said, Rav Hhisda said:
Anyone who sets out on the way must pray Tefilat Haderekh.
What is Tefilat Haderekh?

יהי רצון מלפניך ה' אלהי
שתוליכני לשלום
ותצעידני לשלום
ותסמכני לשלום
ותצילני מכף
כל אויב ואורב בדרך
ותשלח ברכה במעשי ידי
ותתנני לחן ולחסד ולרחמים בעיניך
ובעיני כל רואי
בא"י שומע תפילה

May it be your will, YHVH my god,
that you walk me to peace,
and pace me to peace,
and support me to peace;
and save me from the hand of
any enemy and ambush on the way;
and send a blessing in my handiwork;
and place me for grace, kindness and compassion in your eyes
and the eyes of all who see me.
Blessed are you, YHVH, who listens to prayer.

Abayey said, one must always associate themself together with the community.

How would we say it then?

יהי רצון מלפניך ה' אלהינו
שתוליכנו לשלום, וכו׳

May it be your will, YHVH our god,
that you walk us to peace,
etc.

That is how the Travelers' Prayer appears in the Gemara. The exact text we say today differs from the Gemara's text, as well as among the different ancestral traditions.

One of the more salient differences is that at least some Ashkenazic versions of Tefilat Haderekh ask God not only to save us from אויב ואורב, enemy and ambush, but also from ליסטים וחיות רעות, bandits and evil beasts — ומכל מיני פורעניות המתרגשות לבוא לעולם, and from all types of tragedies that suddenly happen in the world.

At least according to Prof. Alick Isaacs of Hebrew University (i never got a chance to ask him for sources on this claim), in medieval Ashkenaz, the term חיות רעות did not mean simply 'evil beasts' or 'wild animals', but something in particular. Werewolves.

Although I am fairly rationalistic, and don't believe in werewolves or other monsters, I really like the idea of mentioning them in Tefilat Haderekh. I see it as asking God to protect me/us from ALL dangers — natural and supernatural, real and imaginary. It's asking God to save us from our own nightmares, our own fears, and our own overactive imaginations wondering what lurks out beyond the campfire. Whatever it is, God can keep us safe from it.

15 Comments:

Blogger Jack's Shack said...

Although I am fairly rationalistic, and don't believe in werewolves or other monsters, I really like the idea of mentioning them in Tefilat Haderekh

Agreed. That is cool.

12/24/2006 6:45 PM  
Blogger Knitter of shiny things said...

Too bad the tefilat haderekh didn't work for our trip to JitW...

12/25/2006 7:21 PM  
Anonymous Jen said...

shkoiyach!

(does it work for vampires too?)

12/25/2006 7:55 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Jack:

i'm glad we're in agreement, then!

Knitter:

sure it did — you didn't get mauled by a werewolf, did you?

Jen:

i think they're subsumed within the category of "all tragedies that happen in the world" :-)

12/25/2006 8:50 PM  
Blogger Beisrunner said...

Um, if the prayer is referring to werewolves, than they probably considered them real. If they didn't consider werewolves real, than the professor's theory is probably wrong.

12/26/2006 3:25 AM  
Blogger Lipman said...

Are those who believe in werewolves today subsumed within the category of "all tragedies that happen in the world"?

(But not that we'd have to pray against them.)

12/26/2006 6:01 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Beisrunner:

they did consider werewolves real; most people today, however, would probably not worry about the possibility of a dangerous werewolf encounter when driving from New York to Chicago.

Lipman:

only if they think you're a werewolf (and they're reaching for their silver bullets)

12/26/2006 6:34 AM  
Blogger Knitter of shiny things said...

No, but I think we were all almost attacked by a stegosaurus. Watch out, he's behind you!!

12/26/2006 8:45 AM  
Blogger Elie said...

today, however, would probably not worry about the possibility of a dangerous werewolf encounter when driving from New York to Chicago.

Of course; we all know werewolves today are found in London.

12/26/2006 10:12 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Elie:

I think you meant LONDON. :-)

12/26/2006 10:22 AM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

I believe there's some medrash about Binyamin being a werewolf...

12/26/2006 2:32 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Ezzie:

Really? that would be so cool... do you remember if it's connected to Ya‘aqov's blessing to Binyamin?

12/26/2006 4:22 PM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

I thought Esav was the werewolf.

And Esav howls at Yishaq to this very day.

12/26/2006 6:08 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

Well, yes. That's part of the point...!

12/26/2006 11:38 PM  
Blogger David said...

The idea that Benyamin was a werewolf is found in the commentary of Reabbeinu Efrayim, on the possuk " Benyamin zev Yitraf". According to Rabbeinu Efrayim, the reason why Yakkow did not want Benyamin to go to Egyot was b/c he thought someone might kill him in one of his lupine moments.

2/03/2007 10:13 PM  

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